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Nigeria’s huge external debt and 1999 Constitution: 2023 in perspective

By Afe Babalola
05 January 2023   |   3:30 am
The time-honoured axiom is that “nothing is small or big otherwise by comparison.” This statement is not only true but applicable to the economic, political, religious and societal developments in Nigeria since it was carved out in Berlin in 1884 for Britain, our colonial masters. The developmental stages in the history of Nigeria can be…

The time-honoured axiom is that “nothing is small or big otherwise by comparison.” This statement is not only true but applicable to the economic, political, religious and societal developments in Nigeria since it was carved out in Berlin in 1884 for Britain, our colonial masters.

The developmental stages in the history of Nigeria can be divided into four, namely: Nigeria under the British Colonial Masters; Nigeria as an Independent country from October 1960 to January 15, 1966; Nigeria under the Military from 1966 – 1999; Nigeria from 1999 till date.

Nigeria under the British colonial masters

In the colonial era, there were no extra-ordinary or outstanding rich Nigerians. On the other hand, it was true that there were no poor Nigerians. This fact was confirmed by Lord Macaulay who on February 2, 1835 addressed the British Parliament and said as follows: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

Nigeria as an Independent country from October 1960 to January 15, 1966

This period could be described as the “Golden Era” in the developmental history of Nigeria. The country was governed by resourceful, patriotic, progressive and selfless leaders such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Denis Osadebe. Nigeria’s constitutions then provided for regional and parliamentary system of government. The Legislators were men and women who had manifested their interest in developing the country. They were not transactional businessmen or those who saw politics as an avenue to make money. They did not earn salaries. They were only entitled to sitting allowances which some did not collect. It was an era of fast development in agriculture, commerce, infrastructure and education. Indeed, it was an era when the Nigerian Naira was stronger than the American dollar and was in fact equal to the British pounds sterling.

Nigeria under the military from 1966 – 1999:

The military took over on January 15, 1966 and swept aside the people’s constitutions of 1960 and 1963. They ruled by Decrees. Sadly, the period witnessed low budgetary allocation to education. The naira depreciated in value. The fast development in agriculture, commerce, infrastructure and education embarked upon under the regional and parliamentary system of government nosedived. By the time the military handed over in 1999, corruption, unemployment, strikes, poor budgetary allocation for education, decayed infrastructure, which were unknown in the previous era became prevalent in the country.

Nigeria between 1999 till date

The military relinquished power in 1999 but instead of restoring the peoples’ constitutions of 1960 and 1963, it handed over a new constitution, which it falsely described as the 1999 Constitution made by the people. Sadly, it abolished regional and parliamentary system of government and ceremonial President. Worse still, it left an external debt of N42.84 Trillion as at June 30, 2022.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo took over as Nigeria’s President in 1999, his first duty was to go round the world pleading for debt forgiveness and or debt reduction.

One of the positive achievements of his efforts at debt reduction and/or debt forgiveness was that the country was financially stable enough to devote a minimum of 26 percent of its annual budget to fund education as recommended by UNESCO.

Unfortunately, since he bowed out of governance, the annual budgetary allocation has fallen to as low as 6 percent. For example, in the 2017 budget, N448.01 billion was allocated to education, representing only about 6 percent of the N7.30 trillion budget. The percentage of budgetary allocation to education was further reduced in the 2021 budget. In the 2021 budget, only 5.6 percent of the N13.08 trillion budget was allocated for education, which represents the lowest percentage allocation since 2011.

Nigeria today is suffering from a myriad of problems including insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, spiral unemployment, under-funded education, strikes, herdsmen’s attacks, murder, grinding poverty and robbery among many others ills afflicting the country. Certainly, this is contrary to what Nigerians expected under Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution, which provides that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
2023 elections

In my address to the newsmen on April 18, 2022, I urged the Federal Government to suspend the 2023 election. The suggestion was made pursuant to Section 9(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides as follows: “the National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section alter any of the provision of this constitution.”

Our courts have interpreted the word “alter” to include the word “substitution.” In other words, the National Assembly has power to substitute the 1960/63 Constitutions with necessary amendments for the 1999 Constitution. All that the National Assembly needs to do is to propose an Act to amend the present Constitution by substituting the 1960/63 Constitution for 1999 Constitution and also to establish an Interim National Government pending the making of a new constitution.
Aare Afe Babalola SAN is the Founder, Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Ado Ekiti.

In the process, the National Assembly must however comply with the requirements of Section 9(2) of the Constitution on the conditions that must be met by the National Assembly and the state assemblies when the Constitution is being amended that such proposal may be required to have the support of 2/3 of the members of the House.

I still stand by my suggestion that any election conducted under 1999 Constitution cannot and will not produce new leaders with new ideas. Rather, any election conducted under the 1999 Constitution will merely result in recycling the same people who have brought Nigeria to grinding poverty, unemployment, underfunded education, insecurity and huge external debt.

I have no sympathy for any Nigerian who is aspiring to rule Nigeria in any form whether as legislator, governor or president. However, the fact remains that 1999 Constitution, in large measure, is the root cause of the economic, social, political and religious problems in the country today. Nigeria has gone down to a ridiculous position with the notorious rating of “the poverty capital of the world.”

I must reiterate my position that the huge external debt of N42.84 trillion, increasing cases of killing, kidnapping, mismanagement of public funds, unemployment, strikes, poor allocation of funds for education in Federal institutions and double digits inflation etc. are fall-outs from the inappropriate 1999 Constitution which was put in place by the Military.

A new Constitution is imperative

Sections 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, and 137 of the 1999 Constitution, which is the root cause of the problems afflicting the country provide for the qualifications and disqualification of the members of the House of Representative, the Senate and the President.

Experience is the best teacher. Our bitter experience since 1999 has taught us that we are in urgent need of a new Constitution, which should provide for stringent conditions in respect of age, academic qualifications, character and personality, contribution to community at local, state and federal levels, as well as family background of candidates for Presidency and National Assemblies.

Unless, a new constitution similar to the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions, with necessary amendments, is put in place, none of the aspirants and indeed no angel can save the country from total collapse.
External debt and voluntary donation for repayment

The external debt of Nigeria as at June 30, 2022 was N42.84 trillion while the domestic debt service rose to N5.24 trillion in 30 months as at June 2022. Any Nigeria aspiring to rule Nigeria in any form ought to be concerned and indeed worried that Nigeria is owing such a huge debt. Whereas no sensible person wants to invest in a country where his investment and workers are unsafe. I believe that apart from the new Constitution, the huge external debt should be an urgent issue to be addressed.
The questions I ask myself are: How did we accumulate such a huge external debt? Why did National Assembly assent to President’s proposals to borrow such a huge amount of loan? What has the country done with the huge loan? How did Nigeria earn the notorious rating as the Poverty Capital of the world? How did naira depreciate to N450 to $1 officially and about N750 to $1 in Black Market? How much is our revenue from which this country can pay not only the debt but the interest? Did the borrower give thought to how the huge debt can be paid?

Whether a debtor is juristic or non-juristic, his duty is to maintain equilibrium in the management of his finances. As things are now, with the Naira hovering around N750 per $1 and the insecurity to life and property, no reasonable investor particularly from other countries will venture to invest in Nigeria.

We are all aware of the emergence of many Nigerians who are basking in billions and trillions of dollars. I congratulate them. However, the fact remains that most if not all the wealth or riches were made in Nigeria.

Before Nigeria is formally declared bankrupt, it is my view that all these Nigerians billionaire and trillionaire and indeed all patriotic Nigerians should make voluntary donations through a Committee to be set-up by the Government for immediate payment of all or a substantial part of this huge debt.

In addition, the government should emulate Obasanjo’s example by approaching the creditors either for total forgiveness of the debt or substantial reduction of the debt. This is a practical and more realistic way of paying the huge debt thereby reviving our economy.
Aare Afe Babalola SAN is the Founder, Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), Ado Ekiti.